J. David Gillespie —
For a long time politicians have tried to make politics entertaining to the masses. Roman rulers offered the plebs “bread and circuses.” U.S. political scientists have for years written about presidential campaigns like they were horse races. I am convinced now that what we are seeing in presidential contests is a reality show.
Maybe, sensing the value of reality shows, media, the parties, and the candidates are just now tapering things that way. But it could be that presidential competitions have always been reality shows and we just didn’t know it because TV had not invented them yet.
If I am right about the reality show thing, that may be one reason Donald Trump is now doing so well. The Donald is a reality show pro. Longtime host of The Apprentice and Celebrity Apprentice, he has been ready and willing to utter those chilling words: “You’re Fired.” That NBC eventually fired him is beside the point.
I don’t really like reality shows, but I have watched them enough to psych them out. There are winners and losers, a whole lot of cheating, and tactical alliances—alliances which last only as long as they serve the interests of the players who build them.
And you know they are not really entirely real. There are behind the scenes managers who script or manipulate things. In our reality game you should factor in the media, especially television and now social media.
There are the corporate fat cats who are now pretty much free, through Super Pacs and such, to spend all they want to influence things. Wealthy himself, Trump may be immune to their lure. A Forbes report reveals that the wealth of all the other Republican and Democratic candidates combined comes up to less than 5 percent of Trump’s!
And there are “we the people.” We are the reality show’s audience, but don’t forget that democracy thing. Calls go out for us to participate, to contribute, to vote. There are those among us who actually do that.
This reality show carries some features of Celebrity Apprentice, but it may be more like Survivor. Let’s call our reality show Red and Blue. Think of a land mass with two tribes. They are the Reds and the Blues. There is Red turf on one side, Blue on the other; but some Reds live in Blue territory, and some Blues in Red.
Everyone knows that the ultimate campaign comes this fall. That is when either the Red or the Blue leader will emerge victorious, to lead our divided land.
Right now the contests are within each tribe, for tribal leader. Tribal insiders and outsiders are waging war, and the outsiders are now doing remarkably well. Intratribal shells are being lobbed back and forth, and one by one the losing warriors are nursing their wounds and heading home.
It is in what we know, or are told, about the principal players—he candidates—that our reality show looks more like Celebrity Apprentice than Survivor. The Red team at first featured what seemed like a cast of thousands. That is now winnowing down—the one woman, for example, has left the building—but those still standing make a fascinating cast of characters.
One is an African American neurosurgeon. There are two Hispanic senators, both opposed to freer immigration. Two white governors and one of the Hispanic senators are aiming at each other, each vying to become the establishment’s choice to take on the Blues.
But two anti-establishment outsiders are now way ahead in polls and delegate counts. One is that other senator, despised (it is said) by his colleagues but beloved by evangelicals.
The other is the wealthy businessman/reality show veteran. About his vision he offers few details. He does speak of making America great again, of building a wall at Mexico’s expense, of excluding Muslims “until we know what the hell is going on.” He appeals to our fears, not our finer angels.
The Blue team is now down to two, but plenty of entertainment is left in their struggle. The Blue (former?) presumptive nominee has been first lady, senator, and a cabinet officer, and she may become the first woman ever to grasp this nation’s top government position. She is the establishment candidate, and with a lot of support among African Americans.
But the Reds sense blood in the water from some things that happened during her cabinet years; and her anti-establishment Blue opponent, a senator, charges that she is much too close to Wall Street. Seizing on a single important issue—corporatization, the decline of the middle class, the rise of the 1 percent—he is seriously appealing to young voters and other denizens in the Blue party base.
We are now in the fourth episode of Red and Blue. The first was titled “Preliminaries.” Filming for it lasted through most of 2015. Following that were two episodes, on Iowa and New Hampshire. Episode 4 belongs both to us (South Carolina) and Nevada, so let’s name it “Palmetto and Silver.” The fifth will be “Super Tuesday.” And then after that, who knows? This is a reality show, after all.
This is an op-ed piece appearing February 17, 2016 in The Clinton Chronicle, Clinton, S.C. by Wise Guy contributor J. David Gillespie.